Shake the stigma: “The staff aren’t there to judge you”

Lidcombe resident Marc Roset.

Sexual health testing can often be daunting, but Lidcombe resident Marc Roset has urged others to conquer their fears and get on top of their health.

Marc, who is 25 and identifies as a gay man, has shared his sexual health testing experience with the Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre (WSSHC) and has provided support to those who may be afraid.

“The Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre is just a standard clinic – it’s no hassle, just walk in and they’ll help you,” Marc said.

“If for any reason you got a scare or you’re unsure about something, they’ll do your best to fit you in as quick as possible.

“If you’re gay, make an appointment, you’re not going to be outed by anyone, I’m assuming that’s the main hesitation of communities.

“The staff aren’t there to judge you, they’re there to keep you in your best health.”

WSSHC provides free and confidential testing, support, treatment and management of sexually transmissible infections and HIV/AIDS. Marc says he has never felt uncomfortable and regularly visits the centre.

“I’m always wanting to know if I’m healthy and well,” Marc said. “I’ve come across a lot of married or curious people and it’s clear there is a stigma around getting tested. Not knowing your status is scarier.”

Marc, who is a draftsman, said that a sexual health clinic can be easier than visiting a GP.

“I’ve been to a local GP and they can be a bit awkward because it’s not their specialisation and they’re not facing it all the time,” Marc said.

“A clinic is easier because they do this kind of thing every day. “Half hour out of your time will give you a lot of peace of mind – you know your status, you’re good and can keep living your life.”

The Director of the WSSHC and Professor at the University of Sydney, David Lewis, said the clinic offers a free, confidential and non-judgemental LGBTIQ-friendly service.

Professor David Lewis.

“WSSHC has some amazing staff,” Professor Lewis said.

“Young people from all backgrounds are always welcome to our service.

We have a number of collaborative relationships with various non-government organisations, including those serving our local Aboriginal community.” Professor Lewis said sexual health remains a stigmatised area of medicine.

“There is still a lot of work to do to normalise screening for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV,” Professor Lewis said.

“Regular health screening should be an integral part of everyone’s health-seeking behaviour. “We need patient champions, like Marc, to promote our community-based sexual health services.

“It’s great that Marc has shared his own experience and I really hope his comments will give others the confidence to step forward and test.”

Professor David Lewis at the WSSHC.

Almost half of all people with HIV are diagnosed in the late stage of infection, which is why those at risk are encouraged to get regularly tested.

In 2018-19, NSW Health is investing $21.9 million in services to strengthen HIV testing, treatment and prevention.

From January to September 2018, 191 NSW residents presented with a newly diagnosed HIV infection compared with 249 during the same period in 2013-2017.

The NSW HIV Data Report also shows from January to September 2018 there were 42 per cent fewer Australian-born men having sex with men diagnosed with early stage HIV, compared to the same period over the past five years.

This reduction is due to more people seeking early testing and treatment, as well as the introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PrEP).

PrEP is the use of medications to treat the HIV infection, also used to prevent the infection in those at risk.  It is available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

To find out more about the Western Sydney Sexual Health Service click here and for information on HIV testing click here.